As they step out of the train cars, leaving the last of their valuables behind, they are surrounded by the SS with machine guns. Men are separated from the women. Eliezer watches his sisters and his mother move away. He sees his mother and his youngest sister for the last time.
This is virtually the last we hear of Eliezer's mother and sister in the book. His attention turns to his father's survival and his own—it's almost as if he can't afford to expend any thought on people he can't help.
The SS order them into groups. Eliezer manages to stay with his father. One veteran prisoner tells him to say that he is eighteen, not fifteen, and his father forty, not fifty. Another prisoner begins to curse the new arrivals for coming—anything, even killing themselves, would have been better, he says. He can't believe they haven't heard by 1944 what happens at Auschwitz. Pointing to the chimneys he says, "You're going to be burned."
The new prisoners can't imagine the inhuman cruelty that they are about to face, and so enter the concentration camp peacefully. The veteran prisoners know better. But even they are so terrified of their jailers that rather than follow their own advice, they take out their anger on the new prisoners.
Some of the young men briefly murmur about revolt—they have a few knives among them, but no other weapons. The older men talk them out of it, telling them not to lose faith.
The old men still have faith in God, and in the humanity of their fellow humans. .
The new arrivals are marched to a square. An SS officer named Dr. Mengele inspects them, asking some of them questions, and then pointing to the right or to the left with his baton. Eliezer lies and says he is eighteen and a farmer. Dr. Mengele gestures to the left, and does the same for his father. A veteran prisoner tells them they are headed for the crematorium.
Mengele was called the ‘Angel of Death' by the prisoners because he had the power to decide who lived and who was immediately gassed. During his time at Auschwitz, he performed horrifying "medical experiments" on thousands of prisoners, including live dissections of children.
They are marched towards a ditch from which Eliezer sees flames leaping up. He watches a truck pull up to the ditch and sees babies and little children thrown into the flames. They march towards a larger ditch for adults. Eliezer's father wishes his son could have gone with his mother—he does not want to see his son burn.
During the transport of Hungarian Jews in 1944, the crematoria couldn't keep pace with the killings, so the Nazis dug open pits and burned Jews there.
Eliezer tells his father he will run towards the electric fence instead of dying in the fire. His father can only weep. Someone begins to recite the Jewish prayer for the dead—the Kaddish—and Eliezer's father whispers along. Eliezer feels a first sense of rebellion against his religion and his God.
The misfortune of his family losing its home and possessions didn't shake Eliezer's beliefs. But the vision of children and babies thrown into the flames eats away at his sense of God and the universe.
They are marched almost to the edge of the ditch, and then ordered back to the barracks. The narrator says he will never forget that first horrible night, "which has turned my life into one long night." He will never forget the faces of the burning children nor the night he loses his belief that God is just.
In the barracks, the new arrivals are beaten by veteran prisoners. The SS officers look for strong men (Eliezer and his father decide not to draw attention to themselves). Next, the new arrivals are sent to the barber to have all their hair shaved. They mingle for hours, finding friends, occasions for joy and for weeping. They are all too numb to think about those they've been separated from.
They are disinfected, made to run naked in the cold, sent to another barracks were they try to sleep standing. Kapos (prisoners given power over other prisoners) take whatever new shoes they can from the new prisoners. An SS officer tells them that in Auschwitz they must work or they will be sent to the crematory.
The Jews are treated like livestock. The Kapos were often convicted criminals who were given power over the other prisoners. They're reputation was one of brutality.
Certain skilled workers are weeded out and the rest are sent to another barracks. Eliezer's father asks the gypsy deportee in charge of the barracks if he can use the lavatory. The man knocks his father down. Eliezer does not move, and feels guilty, although his father says it doesn't hurt.
In the inhumane, insane world of the camps, neither Eliezer nor his father can protect each other the way a son or father should protect each other. To do so might invite death for both of them.
Under SS guard, Eliezer, his father, and their group of prisoners are marched out of Birkenau to another camp: Auschwitz proper. They pass through an iron gate with a saying above it that reads, Work is liberty.
Another translation of the German saying is, "Work will make you free." It was not, however, the Nazi's intention to give the surviving prisoners their freedom in exchange for work.
They are made to shower, are forced to run naked, and arrive at a prison block where a Polish prisoner in charge of them speaks kindly to them. He tells them to keep faith in life and to be comrades to each other. The prisoners sleep.
Eliezer cites few examples of decency from anyone in a position of power, but this is one of them.
The next day the prisoners are tattooed on their left arms. Eliezer becomes A-7713. In the evening, tens of thousands of prisoners stand for roll call as the SS checks the numbers on their arms. They get black coffee in the morning, soup at noon, and a piece of bread and something else at night. Eight days go by.
Tattoos are one of the notable legacies of the concentration camps that survivors have lived with. The number reinforced the idea that each prisoner was no longer a person.
A relative—Eliezer's great-uncle from Antwerp—finds Eliezer's father and asks if anyone has heard news of his wife or children, whom he hasn't seen in two years. Eliezer lies and says his mother heard that they were very well. The man is overjoyed—hope for them is all that keeps him alive.
Conditions in the camp eventually become so harsh that people need some kind of hope to hold onto in order to keep their will to live. Belief in God is not enough.
They spend three weeks at Auschwitz. The relative from Antwerp visits and brings half a ration of bread. He advises Eliezer's father to take care of his son. Then a new transport comes from Antwerp, presumably bringing real news with it, and the relative never comes again.
Eliezer assumes that the relative has learned the truth about his wife and children, and has lost his reason to live.
Lying on their beds at night during this period, the prisoners listen to a man named Akiba Drumer sing religious songs. Some people talk about God. Eliezer no longer prays, is no longer sure that God is just. His thoughts turn to his mother and his youngest sister. His father says they must be in a labor camp, and both pretend to believe this.
This is one of the few instances that Eliezer seems to allow himself to think about his mother and sisters. Whereas not long ago he would have prayed to God in a difficult time, he no longer feels he can because he has ceased to believe that God is good.
Roughly a hundred ordinary laborers are left from the original group. Guards take them out of Auschwitz through villages, where girls flirt with the SS soldiers. Four hours later they reach another camp called Buna.
Eliezer and his father are apparently still useful to the Nazis as slave labor—they've managed to avoid the first selections for the gas chamber and the ovens.